Jesus, Mary, and the Catholic Church, these three I love, first God, then by grace His Mother, and now finally His Church as embodied in the historical 2000 plus year old institution called the Catholic Church. During all of the years that I spent as born-again believer, I cannot remember ever loving Protestantism. I did love God’s Word but not the theology of Protestantism. I must admit that in the throws of conversion I was thrilled by the notions of salvation being eternal and best of all free but it was the Word of God that I loved not the specific theology I had begun adhering to. That changed daily as I listened daily to different bible teachers on radio in bible study and at worship. No I can’t say that I loved Protestantism. What I can say is that I loved the Bible itself. Rightly discerned and taken into the heart the Bible is much more than just a collection of books. The Gospel of John commences, ”In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” I admit it an odd idea, that one should love an institution, but then again, the Church and the Word on which it is founded is not actually an institution in the way that we usually consider such things, just as the Bible is not simply a book in the normal order of books.
If the Catholic Church’s claim about itself is true, and I believe it is, as an institution, it is something far greater. It is in reality, the physical living embodiment of the person of Christ. It is that embodiment which explains my experience of “love” for what appears to many, to be only an institution and a gravely imperfect one at that. To the natural mind as displayed by the modernist Catholic, this deeply flawed institution is in great need of overhaul. Hence the many and sundry attempts to diminish the hidden glory of the Mass. Communion today is believed by the majority of Catholics for example to be merely symbolic, exhibiting just how much the glory of Truth has been obscured. The Cathechism (1324) of the Catholic Church declares that the Blessed Eucharist is the height and summit of the Christian life. As such, how is it possible that barely more than 30 % of Catholics today, even believe that the Eucharist is the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord, as declared in official Catholic teaching? (Catholic Catechism, 1374)
One day, after having just celebrated the morning Mass, a visiting priest tried to convince me of his modernist views. He claimed that the Blessed Eucharist is only the spiritual presence of Christ, not the physical. When I questioned his theology, he grabbed my hand in obvious disdain, emphasizing his belief in my utter foolishness, holding as I do to the Real Presence. “This . . . this is physical,” he declared as he thrust my hand from side to side. This same priest makes it a regular practice to change up the words of the Mass adding commentary here or there, removing or changing words, lecturing Mass attendees on how certain saints were certainly off track in their theology/spirituality etc. and of course never, never, elevating the Host during consecration. This seems to be a tenant of the contemporary modernist priest, never, never elevate the Blessed Eucharist, after all someone might get the wrong idea and actually believe that Jesus, really is physically present. The lowered sweeping hand holding the Consecrated cup during Mass always raises my modernist antenna. I presume, in Christian charity, that his novel additions and subtractions in celebrating what used to be rightly called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are all in his pursuit of making all that stuff more interesting and relevant for us, the unlearned, bored as we must be by the common Mass. I’m not sure exactly what brand of theology that particular priest adheres to but it is certainly not historic, authentic Catholicism.
We live in a time when the commandments of God seem to many, to be mere suggestions made by a kindly and concerned father figure who fortunately lives far enough away from us, that we need not be too concerned about pleasing Him. Luckily for us the Church is made of more than simply earthly stuff for if it were not supernatural in nature, it would have shriveled up and blown away long ago. On the contrary, it is in fact a living “breathing” person, the mystical yet physical reality of the person of Christ. It is not merely a collection of like-minded individuals gathering together in communal union of belief as so many other institutions are.
As a child the nuns taught us, that the Catholic Church was different from all of the other Christian churches. The Catholic Church alone professes the fullness of truth. I heard and believed without having the faintest idea of what they meant. It was a long while later when I struggled, as Jacob wrestling with the angel struggled, in my own battle with truth and was subdued. Today it is not easy to find the fullness of truth, at least in many local parishes, unless you seek and search it out for yourself as the Lord said, “with your whole heart.” For instance, I cannot recall a time when a priest of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, preached unequivocally against the travesty of legalized abortion. I have never heard a sermon from the pulpit, against either fornication nor divorce and remarriage although these sins are as prevalent in the Catholic population as they are in the wider populace. These sins tangibly weaken the body and its ability to reveal the Light of Christ to the world, yet our leaders, priests and theologians in large part refuse to even acknowledge let alone rebuke the cancers eating away at the health of the body. So with weakness of leadership, weakness of preached doctrine, weakness of will, is it any wonder that the Church is in decline as a source of light and life in the world. How then can I remain a dedicated committed Catholic ‘in love’ with this Church which is failing on so many levels to live up to its calling, to be Christ to the world?
Simply said, it (the One Holy Apostolic Catholic Church) remains still theonly full representation of Christ to the world, despite its weakened glow. Because it is Christ’s body where else can I go? Just as Peter in the Gospel responded to Jesus’ inquiry after the bread of life discourse, “Will you also leave me?” Despite its many and myriad failings, it remains The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by God Himself. It is Christ’s body. The sin of man cannot diminish truth. It can diminish our seeing truth however and our ability to recognize it. The Church remains in essence the embodiment of the person of Jesus Christ who is perfect and holy. It remains holy despite the ungodliness of its members. It remains true, despite theologians who preach untruths in its name. The fullness of truth is still found in its official doctrines and timeless Tradition, if not in its theologians and not often in the mouths of its priests. In a way the very failings of those within its walls, binds me ever more closely to the perfection of its eternal truth as found in the incarnate Christ. The Church is a living embodiment of Christ’s word and the fact that Christ has bound himself irrevocably to His fleshly creatures in the perpetuation of His living Presence as found in the “Church” causes within me, at the same time a deep sense of gratitude along with a commensurate sorrow.
I am reminded of an old photograph that I recently found. The picture was of my husband with our then, two-year old son Gabe, working together, building our back porch. Our son’s little arm dangling down barely able to lift the hammer in his attempt to help his father, more of a hindrance than a help. So too, our heavenly father has invited us to join ourselves with Him, incarnate truth, having been baptized into his body. Not only are we invited but we are in fact obligated to aid Him in the building of his Kingdom. No doubt our human sinful natures have dimmed the Light of Christ rather than magnified it, as did Our Lady. In her Magnificat she declared, “ My soul doth magnify the Lord”, and so should our goal be but how often do our weak, faulty and sometimes even sinful efforts diminish rather than magnify the light of Christ in the world? Would it not be easier if God were simply to take our hammer’s away and lay them aside?
The unthinkable remains true that God has bound Himself to us, though by and large we continue to sin, creating a union of perfection with imperfection working together to bring the light of Christ to the world. There have ever been traitors of the Lord working alongside Him. They do no purposeful good and often cause great harm. I am not suggesting that it must be so. I would far prefer that those who do not believe would leave rather than try to convert the Catholic Church into the modern relativistic imposter that I have seen grow in strength over my life time. The One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church remains intact and whole yet there are those who tenaciously reject its tenets and continue to lay claim to the name Catholic working tirelessly to obscure the timeless doctrines of Catholic Truth as expressed in Sacred tradition and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Not so long ago I found myself in the strangely odd position of having to remove my teenage daughter from the local Catholic High school in an attempt to preserve her faith. I did and it did. After a mere month of tenth grade religion class my young daughter was expressing her new and growing conviction that hell is not a real place at all but is rather mere symbolism, after all, a loving God would not send his creatures to a place of everlasting torment. Unwilling to enter debate on the subject, I promptly asked to see her religion book. I suspected immediately the origin of her rather nice ideas on the nature of hell and found upon inspection, to my growing anger, a curriculum that seemed inordinately concerned with undermining, weakening, and diminishing any and all elements of supernatural action on the part of God. The writer of the commentary seemed exclusively concerned with explaining why and how the Old Testament miracles simply couldn’t have happened, throwing into doubt, as a byproduct, any and all of scripture and its dependability. Not only were the miracles suspect but also even such stories as Abraham offering up his son Isaac as a victim sacrifice were denied as a possibility. The theological commentary accompanying the scripture texts were alarming in their utter jettisoning of the need of faith, and were outrageously presumptuous in denying the plain texts as written. The commentary writer actually had the audacity to say that God would never have asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and therefore we must assume that Abraham misunderstood God’s request. I guess we should be comforted that the twenty-first century theologian, whoever he or she was, had insight into God’s intent that apparently Abraham was lacking at the time. In the face of such arrogance I can only blush. In light of the fact that Pope Pius the X condemned modernism as the “synthesis of all heresies” in his encyclical Pascendi Doninici gregis 1907, I am confounded as to why it has permeated Catholic thought and teaching to such a degree, and continues to do so. It seems that to the modernist mind, faith is an unnecessary component in the religious equation. All religion must be accepted and understood within the context of a modern, humanistic, scientific and most of all rationalistic mindset. There is only one problem with this approach other than that it has already been condemned. God made man, man did not make God and there will always be mystery in our relationship with Him at least this side of the veil.
It is small comfort but I do find the odd and extreme contortions of modernist theologians at times comic relief in this vale of tears. If the plain text of scripture requires any element of trust for instance, containing as it does mystery, and yes-even obscurity, . . . then of course the modernist theologian must find a rational excuse for the ‘difficult’ passage. For instance, one commentary explained that Jesus didn’t necessarily walk on water. It is possible that Peter simply tripped while walking along the shoreline and Jesus bent down to help him back to his feet. It just seemed to Peter that Jesus was walking on water because of his vantage point and Jesus’ proximity to the shoreline. One wonders, if that were the case, why the gospel writer would want to have recorded the incident at all? Was it to display Peter’s tendency to tell ‘Big Fish’ stories, or rather to reveal to us that Jesus was kind of a nice guy? Why not just ‘get to it’ and declare that the Gospel stories are only that, fictional stories made up for our edification. I actually heard a sermon, expounding this naturalistic explanation and when I questioned the priest on whether he didn’t believe that Jesus could walk on water, he was taken aback and explained it was just something he had read in the commentary when preparing for his talk. The theological conceit of some commentary writers is simply unending. I dare to question how they dare advise souls that Gods word is open for any and all kind of interpretation as long as that interpretation isn’t hindered by the need for faith!
What is more astounding to me however than the contemporary lack of faith permeating contemporary Catholic catechesis and the commensurate ascendancy of man’s pride, is, by contrast, the continuing and utter humility of Christ. Having once united Himself with us in human flesh, He continues to unite his perfection with our imperfection in his mystical body. He continues to subject himself to his representatives adhering invariably to the radical notion of incarnation. The priest says the words of consecration lifting up the bread and in so doing Christ obligates himself to become our food; body, blood, soul and divinity, regardless of either the holiness or the sinfulness of the priest himself. One could almost say that such behavior is unbecoming in an all-powerful Holy God. Is it not? We most certainly have an odd God!. Why would a holy God submit and obligate His action to a mere man and perhaps a gravely sinful man? It makes no sense to the modern mind, and in fact was a point of great confusion to me in my return to the Catholic faith. How can a priest consecrate a wafer of bread, a glass of wine if he himself lacks faith and holiness? Perhaps he is even an unbeliever or perhaps he is in the state of mortal sin? Is the consecration valid? The answer is yes.
Thus is displayed, the radical humility of God, God, subjugating himself to man, once again. Just as he once subjected himself to the Jewish authorities and to the Romans, to be beaten and abused, so today he suffers Himself to be made truly present at Mass making himself subject to the greatest saint who presents himself for communion as much as to the lukewarm heart who doesn’t even recognize His real presence and then to even the grave sinner who refuses repentance, taking the pure and holy God against his will, captive into a dirty and despicable cell once again. How greatly must Christ long for union with souls who love Him, that He subjects himself to all possibility of humiliation? The priest’s ability to consecrate the Eucharist is conferred upon him through the line of apostolic succession and cannot be destroyed by the state of his priestly soul whether good or evil. As his power is in no way due to his own holiness, so to, his sin has no power to remove his priestly office.
NOW SOME THOUGHTS ON MARY
When I started this little essay it was my desire and intent to consider my “love” for The Blessed Mother but quickly I veered off track into the realm of love of Church. Perhaps this is because they are actually one and the same ‘love’. When I first converted, my love was fully and completely centered on the person of Jesus. I was enthralled with Him and the notion of His love for me but perhaps I have not veered so far after all. Perhaps my ‘love’ for Mary and the Church is actually one and the same. The love I have for Mary and the Church are manifestations after all of the same Body. Mary has been called the first church, for good reason, she being the first believer, follower and disciple of Christ. She was the first to receive Jesus as her Lord and to know Him intimately.
It seems to me that Christ has invited me into a very special relationship with His mother, unique in the communion of saints. He has given her to me in a personal way so to speak, to be my mother as well. It is His love for her that He is so generously inviting me into, welcoming me into His relationship with His own human mother. So many of our Protestant brethren misunderstand Catholic love for Mary as a detraction, a misdirection of sorts, when in reality, she is a delight to God and He in His generosity wishes that she be our delight too, because He wills to withhold no good thing from us and she indeed is a good thing. Her soul doth magnify the Lord.
Many years ago before my personal conversion, an odd thing happened to me. In all of my life I had never experienced what I would consider an intervention from heaven, a non-rationalistic, unexplainable, ‘s u p e r n a t u r a l’ experience. I can recall many instances as children growing up, when my closest friend Monica would lay claim to God’s intervention in her life. Truth told, I was secretly jealous of her faith-filled relationship with the unseen God but I didn’t believe any of what she told me at the time. I had always wanted to be close to Him myself, and consciously tried to be, for a long time. I never decided against belief in God. It just seemed that He was intangible and He wanted it that way. I was way too Catholic to ever deny His existence. No, I was simply not “In the know” as she was. She would pray for everything and she always had since childhood. Strangely, from my perspective, her life situations seemed to always work out for her best, but I assumed only that it was by mere chance. I am not suggesting that my friend’s life was charmed and easy, quite the contrary. No indeed as I reflect on what I know about her, she has suffered more than most people that I know. It is an odd and disquieting realization that I have come to. Those who are intimate with God, suffer. Suffering and intimacy with God seem like train tracks running parallel to one another and intersecting upon occasion. Just yesterday in speaking with another friend on this same subject, we agreed that there are two sorts, suffering in and with God and suffering without faith and without Him. The first seems to transform a soul into a reflection of God, shining light and warmth and the second possibly into something less than man. cold and dark. Suffering is not a good in and of itself but can become a good by the mercy and grace of God. It seems to me.
I will never forget these whispered words. I was twenty-two at the time. “It’ll be o.k.” Spoken twice to me when I was in a most desperate situation. I was alone and in great need, lying on a cold floor, in a cold room in a very cold, dark time of my life. I was suffering but it was earned suffering. My own decisions had put me there. They were whispered words yet audible. They were feminine. The gentle whispered voice of a woman telling me that it would be ok.
That voice was so natural and so gentle that its effect upon me was instantly calming. To be clear, I don’t think I realized at the time, that I had heard a spoken audible voice. This is hard to explain. I heard the audible and seemingly human voice of a woman, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I would say, that it was about three days later when I consciously remembered the voice, almost like a dream image returns when an experience triggers its’ subconscious rise into consciousness. I only know that the effect it had upon me at the time was to calm me down, and give me strength to do what I needed to do in order to remove myself from that bad situation. I have since repeated those same words when trying to comfort someone in sorrow but never with the same effect that they had upon me. I never questioned what I ‘d heard nor did I even really wonder about who had spoken to me that night, but the voice and its message pole-vaulted me subconsciously into a spiritual journey that led me to seek out love and ultimately truth. That journey is one that has not ended and continues yet today.
Many years later I began to think about that voice and having by that time committed myself to following Christ, I considered it as belonging probably to my guardian angel. I don’t think so any more. Now I am fairly certain that it was the voice of Mary, the Blessed Mother as many Catholics call her. I slowly have come to that belief after becoming more intimate with her over the years. Perhaps my favorite mystery of the rosary is the “Wedding Feast of Cana”. When praying this mystery I always imagine Mary, head bowed, approaching her son with her request. I imagine their eyes meeting his in knowledge and intimacy. Even as His words give her reason to doubt his intentions, she knows that He will do as she desires, and her desire is just so sweet. She being a woman, a mother, a homemaker, and a caretaker, has seen the practical need of her friends. They are low on wine and the wedding celebration is just getting going. They are no doubt poor and could not afford to have provided more for their guests. Her heart is moved, wishing to help and so she approaches her son knowing that He alone can meet the need she has noticed.
I, for instance, always know when we are low on milk or bread or cat food or if the dog needs water or where to find the pediatricians phone number. My husband doesn’t. Women by and large, are concerned with these kinds of details of daily life and are deeply concerned with bringing happiness to those they care about. This story tells me so much about Mary. She is proactive, she is kind and compassionate, she will put her own needs least and last and she has great sway over Jesus’ heart! When Jesus responds to her request, “Woman, what is that to me? My time has not yet come,” we are given to understand that this public display of his power will be the beginning of Jesus’ three year journey to the cross and he wasn’t planning on starting it quite yet. Mary was in a very real sense placing her son onto the very path that would lead to his torturous death. I believe that she knew the import of her words when she uttered them. She knew that when her son fulfilled her request, then her own journey to the suffering of the cross would begin as well. What mother would send her son to die for love of others? In a real sense, Mary’s self-sacrificing request of Jesus is a reversing of the curse that began with Eve’s outstretched arm, offering Adam the forbidden fruit. Eve initiated the fall of man and in this subtle encounter between Mary and her son, Jesus, I see the reversal of the selfish request of Eve inviting her husband into disobedience. Here is Mary, quietly inviting her son to begin his journey to the cross of our salvation and she offers up her own partaking in this suffering out of love for us. Her love is of the sacrificial tough love variety, when it comes to her own willingness to suffer. She doesn’t ask twice, she just knows that He will comply with her wishes and tells the servants to “Do as he tells you.” What those words cost her in personal sacrifice reveal the depth of her motherly love for all of us.
“A sword too, shall your heart pierce” Luke 2:35, these were the words spoken to Mary at Jesus’ ‘Presentation in the Temple’, shortly after His birth. They were spoken by Simeon and to understand them rightly it must be known that every firstborn Jewish son was dedicated as a sacrifice to the Lord in the Temple. The parents would then redeem their infant with a living, animal sacrifice to be killed in his stead. In Jesus’ case two doves became the living, bloody sacrifice to be offered for his release. When the Holy family appeared in the Jewish temple the wait of a lifetime ended for Simeon and Anna. The one, true sacrifice, Israel’s messiah, the nation’s hope had finally appeared, in the form of this little child. Jesus was the true and final sacrifice that would put to an end once and for all the need of any further substitutionary shedding of blood. All of Jewish hope, desire and history were summed up in that very moment when Simeon uttered those words. Simeon had waited and was rewarded. He had seen the Messiah, the savior. The Messiah had come and was here being offered, as expressed in the future words of Caiaphas (John 11:50) “nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” The prophetic words that Simeon spoke that day, to Mary of her future suffering were said to her in the context of a firstborn son being sacrificed to the Lord, as a restitutional sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and revealed her continuing role in salvation history.
Those familiar with the Gospels will recall the description of the sword piercing the heart of Christ upon the cross. Blood and water flowed forth from his side as the cruel blade entered the already dead body of Jesus Christ. Mary was present at this last indignity and she, being still very much alive, felt the prophesied sword pierce her heart that day. Often in devout Catholic homes a visitor can still find what might seem an odd picture to venerate, two hearts beating side by side one thorn pierced, one with a sword thrust through. Not only was the physical dead heart of Jesus pierced that day, but also the tender and broken living heart of Mary. Her suffering in a very real sense, continued the pain of redemption and fulfilled the prophecy of Simeon.
There is an Idea in Catholic thought of Mary as Coredemptrix (meaning, with the redeemer). It is again a concept of Mary that is deeply misunderstood in Protestant thinking. Mary the new “Eve” suffers in and with her son adding her pain to His cross. It is the idea, if I am not mistaken, that just as God desires and requires, the use of our ‘hammers’ in the building up of His kingdom, it was His good pleasure that Mary suffer alongside her son Jesus during his passion and that her suffering would not be without value in the work of salvation. The fall of man did not happen because of the sin of Eve. Eve proceeded from Adam but Adam proceeded directly from God. It was Adam’s sin, as father of the human race that plunged humanity into Hell, not Eve’s. Although Eve played a crucial part in that tragic Passion play, it was Adam’s sin that brought eternal death to the human race. So to, it is Jesus’ obedient suffering and death on the cross that obtains our redemption but Mary also plays a role in that redemption by the will of God. She in a sense represents the ‘hammer’ of the human race. Is there anything more beautiful than that? Even in this, God humbles himself and includes Mary, his own creation, representing us, in all of our frailty and simple humanity in the act of accomplishing redemption and ultimately salvation. He allows Mary a role in His plan. Her obedience and suffering, by the grace and will of God, is added to the redemption that her son obtained for us, by His sacrifice. Just as Eve’s sin led to Adam’s sin which caused the fall of man, literally Mary’s obedience, gave the world its savior and her own motherly suffering is a participation in the sufferings of the cross as an acceptable sacrifice. Thus, God in perfect balance reversed the curse of Adam on the human race. Although Mary cannot save us, by the will of God, she can participate in our redemption. Mary’s suffering out of love for Jesus has great value to God in the mystery of that redemption. Pope John Paul II, explained it this way, Mary’s intense sufferings, united with those of her Son were “also a contribution to the redemption of us all” (Salvifici Doloris.n.25)
Mother’s know the nature of suffering alongside and ‘within’ when their children are suffering. A mother suffers with her children. It seems to be part of the job. So when I reflect on that time of suffering in my life, and the quiet whispered voice telling me “It’ll be O.K.”, I believe now that it was Mary speaking to me, practical words of help and comfort, words which initiated my own journey into the unknown mystery of a life of faith. Mary as my loving mother noticed me, saw my need for her Son and quietly intervened in my confused life. As I finished up writing these thoughts the Beatle’s tune Let it Be began playing in my mind, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, “let it be, let it be, whisper words of wisdom let it be”.